Some people seek enlightenment, but I never have. I’ve sought answers, many times. I’ve sought better questions. But I’ve never been confident enough in my own comprehensive abilities to think that I would ever know – or even just feel – the meaning of it all.
And if you think I don’t have a high opinion of my comprehensive abilities, well, you’re wrong. If I am arrogant, that is where I am arrogant.
But in my heart of hearts, I believe that, if there is a deep spiritual understanding to be had, most of us get it in drips and drabs. And that’s when we are really trying. Before Teddy was born and before he took those precious last breaths in my arms, I went through a few searches for meaning – in high school and again in college I tried to figure it out and to reconcile the fact that human beings are subject to such random and intense pains and losses with the faith of my family. I worried away at the ideas of god and mercy and miracles and meaning. These things kept me up at night. I ranted about my loss of sleep and my philosophy professor was amused.
I thought I’d struggled my way to an understanding, that I’d wrestled my angel and deserved to move forward through life with my mind at rest.
I was, not an idiot, but I was thoroughly sheltered and privileged and woefully unaware of what it feels like to share the (not uncommon) fate of losing a child to untimely death. Okay, I was a bit of an idiot.
I thought I’d wrestled with an angel, but as it turned out, I’d been wrestling with a fluffy little bunny in a cheap angel costume, the kind with a plastic mask and a silly tinsel halo. I thought my faith was hard-won. It wasn’t. These days I am so very tired of trying to resuscitate my faith, of trying to find meaning in a world full of stupid, meaningless pain. That sounds really grim, and I’m not a grim or even pessimistic person. I’m fully aware of beauty and kindness, of creativity and caring. I see people making and finding meaning all the time, and I think this is marvelous. Sometimes I even find myself doing it, when I’m not paying attention. But it’s harder than it used to be. And I get tired.
And when I hear someone talking about how God helped them find their perfect new house, or a perfect pair of shoes, steam reliably pours out of my ears. I used to have that. I will never have that again. I’m immune to that kind of faith. I reserve for that kind of faith the same sort of sneer that my darling N, an ex-smoker, gives when we walk through someone else’s cloud of smoke on our way across campus.
I’m a no-easy-answers-please zealot, and this makes looking for answers – not all the answers, not enlightenment, just enough answers to be able to stop banging my head against this wall I’ve created out of my lost faith – really difficult. But I keep looking. I don’t know if it’s stubbornness or simply that I share in this part of the human condition and can’t give it up.
So, a few weeks ago I was catching up on some light reading. Specifically, my favorite online advice columns, which are Savage Love and Dear Sugar. (Tangent: I like advice columns because they make me feel more a part of the human condition while also allowing me to smile knowingly at the human condition. I know it’s bad to be a smug bitch, but sometimes I indulge. I also think there’s something to the art of the advice column that’s mysterious and intangible and wonderful and very daring. It’s very daring to give people advice, don’t you think? To take that particular kind of risk with your own thoughts and words?) It’s a fabulous form of distraction, this kind of reading – for me it’s an almost pure distraction, almost the opposite of what I imagine meditation would be if you were really good at meditation. I was reading through the Dear Sugar Archives, enjoying the sensation of my brain NOT worrying about my family budget, my dead baby, my current lack of sleep, my worries about work, and I accidentally stumbled upon my very own little epiphany.
There is this:
Countless people have been devastated for reasons that cannot be explained or justified in spiritual terms. To do as you are doing in asking if there were a God why would he let my little girl have to have possibly life threatening surgery?—understandable as that question is—creates a false hierarchy of the blessed and the damned. To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion. It implies a pious quid pro quo that defies history, reality, ethics, and reason. It fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising—the very half that makes rising necessary—is having first been nailed to the cross.
And then, this:
What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that?
There’s a great deal more to that post. Reading it felt like balm and revelation and relief. I still struggle with faith, but this is a way of looking at faith that makes me believe that faith may be, some day, a possibility. I’m still wrestling, but now I feel like I know better who and what I’m wrestling with.
It occurs to me that many of the bloggers I read who write about faith have written very thoughtfully on these precise topics. Why the words of this particular column, at this particular time, struck such a chord with me – well, perhaps it is partly due to all of the wrestling I’ve been privileged to read about. I’m very grateful to all of you for that.
(And if you’ve made through this incredibly long post, thank you for that, too.)